Sunday Gospel

Well, Friday's, actually. The kids & I were listening to the Sermon on the Mount while on the way to piano lessons on Wednesday, and this portion from Matthew 5 got my attention (picking up at v. 23):
if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny.
The first part seems clear enough: don't bother praying while your heart is full of bile. The second part I have never fully understood; if Christ's point is that we should strive to live in peace with our neighbors, why does he appeal to the seemingly base or at least pragmatic motivation of staying out of prison? It seems out of phase with what precedes and what follows --that our righteousness be more than the Pharisees', that we be perfect. Why would Christ be especially concerned to keep his disciples out of prison --especially when the final beatitude, mere verses above, is the command to rejoice when they are persecuted and falsely accused for his sake? And later on in the gospels he'll promise his disciples precisely that they'll be hauled before judges on his account? I've always thought there was something here I wasn't seeing.

Anyway, so we're driving along and I'm not hearing anything that follows because I'm stuck on this point when it suddenly occurs to me --this is not a meditation on peacemaking at all. This is Christ saying we must come before him worthily. As the Church now teaches, we must make a sacramental confession before we can receive communion if we're conscious of serious sin. Hence, if you find something on your conscience, go take care of that and then come back to the altar. And the next line then becomes a deepening of that teaching, but by analogy. The court you're on your way to is the great judgment, and you should be reconciled to your accuser --Christ himself-- before you get there.

I feel unafraid to pass this little idea along because the homily we heard at mass on Friday was precisely this. (Eldest Weed was impressed with his ol' Mom and shot me a big smile as the priest was talking.) The homilist added the note that Christ must be speaking of Purgatory, since one is never released from hell. But he is warning us, "you don't want to go there." Better to be reconciled to Him before judgment --lest you never get out till you've paid the last penny. Which is of course what "these 40 days of Lent" are about.